Michelle GARNAUT

Restauranteur and philanthropist

About This Project

It all started with China’s first Pop-Up at Shanghai’s Peace Hotel. All I had to do was talk poetry-loving General Manager Wang into letting me do it. He finally grasped the idea… after reciting much poetry at me… as long as I proved that I could actually cook.

 

I called Andrew McConnell (yes, THAT one), our chef at M at the Fringe in Hong Kong, “Hey, I need you to prep a suitcase with a pretty-much-fully-prepared-dinner-for-10 to go to Shanghai… and I need it tomorrow.”

 

An Australian-Chinese lawyer was travelling from Hong Kong to Shanghai the next day and was commandeered to carry and deliver the trial dinner suitcase. At the time, none of our menu was really available in Shanghai: pea and mint soup, hot smoked salmon, mashed potatoes, asparagus, pavlova (base in a box, chopped fruit and cream ready to go). After this kind, trusting man—whom I had never met before—hand-delivered it all, I ran down to the kitchen, and with my non-existent Chinese, got to work with the cooks—cooking, plating, serving, and then eating.

 

Somehow it all came together. Mr Wang told me I could start next week and stay for a month. I told Mr Wang I would come back in three months and stay for a week. We compromised.

 

In December 1996 at Hong Kong Airport, our team of five checked in 550 kilograms of luggage. Flowers, cutlery, champagne, wine, fresh foods, fruits, vegetables, spices, coffee, sugar, cutlery, fabric, tablecloths, napkins—six whole salmon—the works!

 

It was manic setting up for our Pop-Up at the Peace and in the middle of the rush, when no one was looking, I yanked the grimy ruched curtains off, cleaned the windows and heavens above…well, will you look at that view!

 

By 9pm on that the very first night, with a packed house, we found that the rest of the hotel had shut up shop: the bar was locked up, the kitchen closed, not a manager in sight. Even the cashier had gone home! Aiya… so we raided our stashes and our minibars, full of dusty old miniature bottles of whiskey, brandy, vodka, gin, mixed and matched, and somehow got everyone pretty tipsy. It all ended happily.

 

The next day I got hauled up to Mr Wang’s office to explain myself. He recited an old proverb to me, “We are like the piano and the piano player—we must practice for perfect harmony.” And practice we did.

 

That was only the first night! The entire 11 days of ‘M at the Peace’ was a whirlwind, but we knew we were onto a winner. It took another two years, but M on the Bund opened in January 1999 − nearly 20 years ago now.

 

Michelle Garnaut is CEO, M Restaurant Group.

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